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Inside: The Winner of the Dances With Films Fest

The Winner of the Dances With Films Feature Film Grand Jury Award, Inside, is an engaging drama that superbly captivates the audience with suspense.

Alex Wells (Nicholas D'Agosto) is fascinated by the Smiths, a couple who regularly visit the library where he works. Driven by curiosity, Alex follows the Smiths home. Because, as you soon come to know, Alex likes to observe people, study them silently, preferably in a place where they let their guard down, such as in the comfort of their home. This case is no different. Alex needs to know.

Therefore, Alex breaks into their home to get a better view of the arguing couple. But suddenly, the Smiths see him. Rather than calling the authorities, the Smiths invite Alex to stay with them at their place. Now they are watching him, wanting to know more about him.

However, with gradually increasing tension and discomfort, things begin to happen, hooking the audience to the screen. Now the audience is watching them because the audience needs to know.

What Nicholas D'Agosto likes most about his role as Alex is his empathy for those who have experienced loss. He prepared for this role by working very hard to come to an understanding with the character through assimilation of his emotional wants and needs.

However, explains Nicholas, "This character was at times extremely difficult for me. Alex carries a very heavy load in his life—translated into a feeling of great responsibility. In this, I relate to Alex, and found it a strong foundation to lean on."

"But Alex has such a pronounced fear of hurting others when the film begins, that I found it very hard to find the subtleties involved with the progression of the character, because it was my desire to say, at numerous points, 'Enough!', rather than strive to find forgiveness and compassion in those moments."

"This, of course, would have been antithetical to what Jeff Mahler, our writer/director, wanted to do."

Cheryl White as Alice Smith, and Kevin Kilner as Mark Smith, make a chilling character transformation, far from the couple we initially are introduced to. A marked change is visible in the home environment as well, initially delivering a sense of emptiness and devoid of warmth. However, with the presence of Alex, the Smith's home gradually brightens up with color and decor.

Leighton Meester, as Josie, lightens up the darker scenes with her sparkling beauty and grace.

The Smiths and Alex were "the yin to his yang... if that makes sense" explains Jeff Mahler. "They were all feeding off each other, filling a void that they all felt. It was because of this that I wanted to keep the film 'real' versus a 'heightened' reality. If you didn't invest in the characters at all, then there was no way you would sit and watch what they do to each other. So it was very important for me to keep it human. This in turn opened up other ideas for the story, ideas that reflected the themes I wanted to discuss."

Although he doesn't necessarily relate to one character more than another, "I definitely can relate to at least a piece of each of them. They're all dealing with feelings of loss or regret or wanting to be loved... and to me, those are universal themes," said Mahler.

"The movie's tagline is 'What do you see?' and that's what I want the audience to take away from it. What do they see in these characters? How do they relate? It won't, and hasn't been the same for anyone; and, depending on what they do see, is what they'll take from the movie."

This movie has been a labor of love says Mahler, "every single person who worked and helped with this movie stuck with it through thick and thin. And for that, I'm eternally grateful."

By Ester Molayeme

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